Three Takeaways from Northwestern

Michigan State remains winless in conference play after their defense was torched in a 56-40 shootout loss to Northwestern.

The Spartans suffered their third consecutive home loss this year after Saturday’s beatdown. Michigan State had not been scorched this badly on the scoreboard since Wisconsin hung 56 points on them back in 2003.

This is also the first time they have dropped three games in East Lansing by double digits since 2002 and are on their first four game losing skid since the dreadful John L. Smith era in 2006.

Northwestern has triumphed in East Lansing in three of the last four meetings dating back to 2007.

Here are three takeaways from the high scoring affair:


Despite strong start, MSU can’t finish on the winning end

It’s hard to believe that the Spartans have lost four in a row. But it may be harder to believe the fact that Michigan State was the first team to score in all four of their losses.

The Spartans tacked on a field goal in the first quarter before then-No. 11 Wisconsin went on a 30-3 scoring spree. Next, quarterback Tyler O’Connor connected with receiver R.J. Shelton on a 86 yard scoring strike before eventually falling to a resilient Indiana club in overtime.

Then, against BYU, the Spartans marched down the field and scored a touchdown on their opening drive before being outscored 31-7 the rest of the contest. And most recently, Michigan State struck quickly with a new signal caller and a pick six to make it 14-0 midway through the first quarter. But Northwestern countered MSU’s surprise start by lighting up the scoreboard with 54 total points.

The reason why this has been a recurring theme for MSU in the past month is because of mental mishaps by the coaching staff and poor execution.

After Michigan State has scored first, they have been plagued with turnovers against Wisconsin; little offensive production and a fourth quarter defensive breakdown haunting the Spartans against Indiana, while mismanagement of the quarterbacks and underutilizing players like Gerald Holmes proved to be a coaching lapse in the BYU and Northwestern games.

These miscues need to stop or else this will continue to disrupt the overall rhythm and flow of the offense.


Poor tackling and crumbling secondary headline the defense

The Wildcat offense had an efficient outing as they tallied 281 passing yards and 209 rushing yards. Aside from the outstanding playcalling and execution, The Spartans’ poor tackling made it that much easier for Northwestern.

All game long, Riley Bullough and crew were eating dirt as they failed to get the ball carrier on the ground after initial contact. Michigan State failed to play fundamentally sound football on defense because of lousy tackling mechanics as they failed to wrap up properly while taking poor angles in pursuit.

The Spartans were dominated at the line of scrimmage which ultimately led to big holes for Wildcat running back Justin Jackson to burst through. He gobbled up the stifled MSU defense for 188 yards (5.5 yards per carry) and two scores. Thanks to the Spartans frequently trying to strip the ball and being too fatigued, he racked up plenty of yards after contact and forced MSU to get him on the ground by gang tackling him.

The secondary struggled not just in containing the ground game, but slowing down the big plays downfield in the passing game. Miscommunication by Montae Nicholson and company resulted in several pass completions of 20 yards or more. The “Fly Free Zone” better pick up the pace or else they will be even further exposed by Michigan and Ohio State down the road.


Injuries piling up

When you thought it couldn’t get any worse for MSU, the injury bug hit the Spartans hard.

The leaders and arguably the most indispensable players on the team, Riley Bullough (shoulder) and Jon Reschke (ankle), went down in the Wisconsin game. Defensive end Raequan Williams and linebacker Chris Frey suffered arm injuries and defensive back Darian Hicks injured his hip in the Indiana game.

Linebackers Shane Jones and Byron Bullough are also shaken up with Jones and center Brian Allen experiencing problems with their legs. Malik McDowell is constantly getting banged up in every game with leg cramps because of the lack of depth on the defensive line, but is still consistently rising to the occasion as he collected 11 tackles against Northwestern.

Offensive lineman Kodi Kieler has an undisclosed injury while David Beedle left the game last weekend with an apparent injury as well.

The Spartans need to be more cautious in this area, especially regarding how thin the offensive and defensive lines are this year.

Michigan State is very fortunate to have a deep linebacking corps with playmakers Andrew Dowell and Ed Davis fully healthy, while Frey and Jones having minor injuries. They will be greatly relied on to lead the charge towards a second half season turnaround.